Nov 28, 2012 - Renowned Trumpeter Eric Brooks Joins Ernestine Dillard this Friday




            “To me,” says Ernestine Dillard with a warm chuckle, “you don’t have jazz without gospel music – and the blues.”

            The acclaimed Tulsa-based vocalist promises a little of all of those musical styles – and much more – when she joins with trumpeter-arranger Eric Brooks and the twenty-piece Tulsa Praise Orchestra in a Friday concert at the Jazz Depot.

            “We’re going to have a blend of different genres, as I usually do with my shows,” she says, “a little something for every musical taste. I’m calling it `a night of inspirational jazz and big-band music.’ And we have some outstanding musicians with us. Eric Brooks, who’s a trumpeter and also an orchestral arranger extraordinaire, is really known worldwide. I met him through the Tulsa Praise Orchestra. He’s done some arranging for me, and one of the songs he arranged is `Wind Beneath My Wings.’ It’s a beautiful arrangement, and I’m going to do it on Friday.”

            Brooks, a 1980 graduate of North Texas State University, spent the early ‘80s in Orlando, Fla., where he worked with the likes of Michael Jackson, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, B.B. King, and the Temptations, among many other internationally known acts. Moving to Nashville in the ‘90s, he became a successful studio musician and arranger for many major-label artists. He returned to Texas in 1995, moving to Tulsa in 2007. Currently, he’s the staff arranger and artist in residence at Foundation Church in Sapulpa.  

            “One of the things I'm hoping Eric will do is his arrangement of `What A Wonderful World,’” Dillard says. “He is just so blessed, and when you hear his high trumpet on that song it sends chills down your spine. He’s got a wonderful arrangement of it.”

            The concert will also mark the return of pianist and arranger Lonnie Liggett, who collaborated with Dillard for many years before leaving the Tulsa area.

            “He just happened to be in town,” she says. “I believe he’s been on tour in Europe with his wife, who’s a cello player. He’s been a great help and support, and I thought it’d be nice for us to get together and reminisce musically. We go back about 20 years. He arranged `Amazing Grace’ for me, so we’ll do that together.”

            Liggett was also the arranger for Dillard’s signature song, the “God Bless America Medley,” which combines that Irving Berlin classic with “America the Beautiful.”

            “Truth be known, I started doing that arrangement back about 1970,” she says. “But I don’t think it became prominent until 1995, when we had the Murrah Building catastrophe.”

            The exact date the world first heard Ernestine Dillard perform the “God Bless America Medley” was April 25, 1995, when she sang it at the nationally televised Oklahoma City memorial service for the victims of the Murrah Building bombing. Since then, she’s performed it all over the world, often in patriotic celebrations like Philadelphia’s Let Freedom Ring and, in October 2011, at the 125thanniversary of the Statue of Liberty in New York.

            “After I sang it in Oklahoma City, Lonnie did an orchestral arrangement for me, and that’s when I started taking it around the country. We got written permission [from the Berlin estate], so we’ve been safe all those years.

            “People expect it, wherever I am,” she adds. “If they invite me, even if they only want me to do one song, they expect it. And I appreciate that very much. I really do.”

            Dillard, who’s producing the concert, plans to close the show with the “God Bless America Medley,” joined by the Tulsa Praise Orchestra. In addition to performing with her and Eric Brooks, the twenty-person big band will do several songs of its own.

            That format has been working very well for the Tulsa Praise Orchestra and Dillard, who team up to play several engagements every year.

            “A guestimation would be 20 or more a year, but it may be more than that,’ she says. ““It was 1997 or ’98 when we first started playing together, but in the last five years or so, we’ve really been doing a lot. We played at the Statue of Liberty in 2011, and we’re going together to the National VFW Conference next year.

            “I have the privilege of working with them often, and we love to work together,” she adds. “We don’t have a contract or anything. We’re just doing it as friends.”         

            Ernestine Dillard, Eric Brooks, and the Tulsa Praise Orchestra are set to begin Friday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St. Tickets can be purchased at the Depot or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5. Refreshments will be available for purchase.

            The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.

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